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Who’s favourite to win this year’s RIBA Stirling Prize?


The bookies have got it all wrong, says AJ architecture editor Rob Wilson

Bookmaker William Hill has a very different take on who it thinks will scoop this year’s Best Building in the UK award compared with the AJ’s very own buildings expert.

The turf accountants have plumped for Roger Stirk Harbour + Partners’ Macallan Distillery and Visitor Experience in Craigellachie, Scotland. It is their 7/4 favourite (see full odds below).

If the building, with its undulating grass-covered roof wins, it will be the third time the practice has taken home the prestigious accolade, following its victories with Barajas airport in 2006 and Maggie’s Hammersmith in 2009.

However, the chances of that happening, according to Wilson, are very unlikely (see his appraisal below).

He says: ’The inclusion of the Macallan Distillery on the shortlist is, frankly, a surprise. It’s impressive, but slightly fey and old-school hi-tech in feeling.’

Nor is Wilson is convinced the Cork House, which William Hill has placed second favourite, stands much chance.

So who does Wilson think will take the laurels? Not Feilden Fowles’ ’fine, but no fire-starter’ visitor centre at the Yorkshire sculpture Park, nor Mikhail Riches’ ‘quality’ Goldsmith Street eco-social housing scheme (William Hill’s rank outsider, at 11/1).   

No, Wilson has opted for Grimshaw’s ‘hugely impressive’ London Bridge station revamp, a £1 billion mega-project that has already picked up the AJ100 Building of the Year. In his words, the scheme is an ‘exceptionally intelligent rework of a labyrinthine transport interchange’. 

Yet in William Hill’s book it’s another outsider, currently being offered at odds of 10/1. The RIBA Stirling Prize is notoriously difficult to call, but at that price, it may be worth a punt.

William Hill’s Stirling Prize odds at 18 July 2019

  • The Macallan Distillery and Visitor Experience 7/4
  • Cork House 5/2
  • Nevill Holt Opera 7/2
  • The Weston, Yorkshire Sculpture Park 13/2
  • London Bridge Station 10/1
  • Goldsmith Street 11/1

The winner of the RIBA Stirling Prize will be announced on Tuesday 8 October 2019 at the Roundhouse in Camden, London. 

The Architects’ Journal is the professional media partner for the RIBA Stirling Prize.

RIBA 2019 Stirling Prize shortlist reaction by AJ’s architecture editor Robert Wilson

It’s a funny old shortlist this year, not buzzing with excitement exactly, but composed of some fine, some worthy and some slightly unmemorable buildings.

It feels like a deliberately conscientious attempt to spread the love around, divvying up the shortlisting across region, building size, use, and structural type, with a bit of a curve here, a touch of orthogonal precision there. And, of course, ensuring a high retrofit and green count both materially and operationally – avoiding anything too glassy and neoliberal following the reaction to the Bloomberg win last year. 

Grimshaw’s retrofit of London Bridge station had to be there. It’s an exceptionally intelligent rework of a labyrinthine transport interchange (plus it’s public infrastructure, affecting millions of people – tick).

It’s good to see Mikhail Riches’ quality Goldsmith Street scheme included: an holistic attempt to make both decent housing and a decent neighbourhood (social housing – tick).

And there’s the finely wrought insertion that is the Nevill Holt Opera, although it seems unlikely that a Witherford Watson Mann-authored repurposing of a heritage building could win the Stirling for a second time.

Cork House by Matthew Barnett Howland with Dido Milne and Oliver Wilton is exceptional in its material use, and clearly trumps all-comers on sustainability. But it feels slightly too bespoke, more a research project. Architecturally, too, it’s a bit quirky; the roofs (beehives-cum-Mausoleum of Halicarnassus) look a bit unhappy – but these may charm the jury.

Why did this RSHP project make the cut this year, when previously a project like the Cheesegrater didn’t?

Very fine, but not a fire-starter, is Feilden Fowles’ immaculate Weston visitor centre. But its very success at squatting down in the Yorkshire Sculpture Park might count against it, making feel less like a Stirling Prize big-hitter.

The inclusion of the Macallan Distillery on the shortlist is, frankly, a surprise. Like the Weston, it’s another project nestled, if less convincingly, in the landscape. It’s impressive, but slightly fey and old-school hi-tech in feeling. Why did this RSHP project make the cut this year, when previously the Cheesegrater didn’t?

Ultimately, it’s as random as ever. As for a prediction, one senses it could be London Bridge crowned with the laurels – a scheme that’s already picked up the AJ100 Building of the Year Award. 




Readers' comments (2)

  • I agree with Rob London Bridge is immensely impressive. I would like Goldsmith Street to win as Marmalade Lane didn't make the shortlist!!

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  • As an occasional user of London Bridge Station I acknowledge that the remodeling of the station is an attractive and very welcome improvement. However it is spoiled by having island canopies rather than an overall glazed canopy over the platforms and tracks. In the winter the platforms are very exposed to cold winds and rain principally because the tracks and platforms are elevated. However this is made worse by the substantial open areas over the tracks, and the canopies being unduly high and not extending to the platform edges (let alone overhanging them). This is even worse where parts of the canopies have (currently fashionable) wavy roofs which rise up, increasing the exposure to the elements still further. The platform environment is really unpleasant in winter!

    The concourse areas below the platforms and tracks are attractive and spacious, and the the pedestrian circulation well thought out and well connected to the rest of the station and tube lines. However the unpleasant exposure of the platforms is a major deficiency of the project in my view which should be sufficient to prevent it from being awarded the Stirling Prize on this occasion.

    If the canopies are strong enough and the silly wavy bits were replaced with level parts however, and it was possible to install lightweight glazing over the tracks, spanning between the canopy edges, then the project WOULD, in my opinion, be worthy of the prize in a future year.

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